Ten short stories that skirt around the horror & mystery genres...,
This review is from: Communion Town (Hardcover)
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First published back in July of 2012, British author Sam Thompson's debut novel 'Communion Town' received much attention upon its release, having been longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.
Communion Town - 26 pages
He knew so much about the two of them - Ulya and Nicolas. Ever since they'd arrived at Communion Town, he'd kept a discreet eye on them. Watching as they went about their lives. Following them through the urban grime that surrounded them. A grime that over the years Nicolas had become accustomed to. Accepted in his life. However, things would come to a head in Communion Town when a cell of ten men and women, known as the Cynics, instigated a shutdown of all access into and out of the underground transport system for the city. As the public watched through the CCTV systems, twenty-seven people were left stuck underground, with no food, water or any sign of rescue. And then the monsters arrived...
The Song Of Serelight Fair - 54 pages
He made good money at night transporting the mostly drunk and disagreeable about the city in a hired rickshaw. And that's how he first met her. His rickshaw had broken down and he was having a tough time with it all. And then ten days later he saw her again, this time during the day whilst he was working as a cleaner at the university where she studied. They talked, connected and soon enough were lovers. He would play with her guitar, learning the notes and chords. And then one day she bought him his own guitar. And his life suddenly had a direction. He had a purpose and a goal. He devoted his time and energy to writing his songs. Perfecting their sound, until he was ready to perform. Meanwhile their relationship was losing its footing. And before long his songs had the inspiration of a broken heart...
The City Room - 16 pages
He'd always thought that the room was called the 'City Room' on account of the elaborate model city that dominated the room's floorspace. A fanciful city that he had constructed from toy blocks and various bric-a-brac. Only later on in life, as he looked back at the room, he realised that he had misheard its name. Although, the City Room was far more apt than a mere Sitting Room. However, it was a small paper-man that dominated the cityscape now. A man that brought memories of wondering through the real city. Of a route shown to him by the upstairs boy. And a canal man who scared the life out of him...
Gallathea - 44 pages
Hal Moody was a Private Investigator. And in the course of his work he'd seen quite a number of strange things. And this new job was one of them. It started off with a somewhat threatening warning from Don and Dave Cherub. Then Hal found himself being approached by the very woman that the Cherub brothers warned him not to take on. But he paid no attention to the threats from the thuggish brothers. But it's the case that interested him the most. This strange young woman wanted to hire him to find a missing person. Only, the missing person isn't really missing, although she warns that he'll never find her. Because it's her that he needs to search for. And she's willing to pay a lot in gold coins for the job...
Good Slaughter - 28 pages
Over the years he had honed his skills as a slaughterman to near perfection. He never made a mistake. No animal ever suffered longer than it had to at the blade of his knife. But that didn't stop the new floor supervisor at the abattoir, Fischer, from moving him to a different section. A job that wasted his skills. Meanwhile, in the city outside, the Flâneur of Glory Part had been stalking the streets, striking in the gloom of the Market and taking victim after victim. The Flâneur was certainly a proficient killer - much like those in the slaughterhouse...
Three Translations - 18 pages
Andie had only just arrived in the city whilst backpacking when she happened to stumble across her old school friend Dawn. After the two got chatting, Dawn offered a room in her flat to her old friend - herself needing the additional rent after her previous flatmate had recently upped and left. Besides - it's a good time of the year to be in the city. Preparations for the old festival were now in motion, and it wouldn't be long before the city's traditions took place once again...
The Significant City Of Lazarus Glass - 36 pages
With the news that three of the city's leading private detectives had been murdered that very night, renowned investigator Dr Peregrine Fetch knew that his own life would no doubt also be in jeopardy. Furthermore, Fetch had more than a good idea of who would be at the root of this string of horrific murders. The felonious genius of the city, Lazarus Glass, was responsible for the vast proportion of crimes within Communion Town. A criminal mastermind who Fetch had studied alongside all those years ago. And now three of the great detectives who had worked hard to bring closure to so many of Lazarus' crimes have been murdered. Fetch is suddenly alone in solving this one final case...
Outside The Days - 16 pages
He had almost completely forgotten about Stephen when his message arrived. And upon meeting with him for the first time since they were at university, it was obvious how much this once charismatic man has changed. Now just a gaunt shadow of his former self, Stephen appeared troubled and lost. But it was not until he later called around expectantly that the sorry tale came slithering out. A story of seeking out the furthest possible reaches of pleasure - only to overstep the boundaries and be marked for life...
The Rose Tree - 14 pages
In the Rose Tree Café, he sat there in the gloom and damp of the old café with Briggs and Baggoff - two fellow regulars. As the night drew in, the owner, Dilks, poured them their whiskies, fuelling the quiet hours of darkness onwards, so that they could once again leave when the light of daybreak arrived. For no one dares go out after dark. A lesson that a group of three newcomers are soon to learn...
A Way To Leave - 25 pages
Simon wasn't exactly happy with his life with Florence. It had been a slow, gradual wearing away - so much so that he had sunk into this miserable existence without really realising it. But when he did, he'd leave Florence to the illness which had been weakening her, and go off into the city in search of the Flâneur. But he'd always end up changing his mind and return to an eagerly waiting Florence. It had always been the same. That is until now...
For a debut, Thompson's 'Community Town' can be seen as a somewhat safe way to enter the literary world. Let's be honest, short stories are markedly less tricky to tackle and get to a state worthy of publishing than a full length novel. And in adopting a noticeably 'flavour of the month' prose - Thompson seems (deliberately or not) to have taken on a very calculated approach to his first endeavour.
As detailed in the synopses above, the book is broken up into ten standalone short stories which each have a binding link - the overriding backdrop of Community Town. And within these loosely joined shorts, Thompson attempts to capture a glimpse of the human interpretation from ten different perspectives. Indeed, the principal drive behind the book is that each city is different for everyone. Each person maps out their own world within the same concrete environment, and in doing so, it becomes unique to that person. And from this very nutshell, ten unique and completely different lives within the city are documented.
Thompson starts off the book with his almost Clive Barker-esque short 'Communion Town'. This first instalment injects a surprising element of mildly-perverse horror that brings back memories of 'The Midnight Meat Train' (1984). Furthermore, this constant edging towards horror is a recurring theme within the collection of stories. Alongside the first short, 'Good Slaughter', 'Outside The Days' and 'The Rose Tree' are very much within the court of 'horror'. And there's something very Algernon Blackwood about most of the shorts. It's that eerie, not-altogether-right feel to each situation. Like there's something that's not quite being said that has an eye on the events unfolding. It's a quietly spoken murmuring that keeps the reader intrigued and just that little bit on guard. And it has to be said that this particular aspect works quite well.
Thompson is also clearly quite a versatile writer - adopting different takes on the characters and style of story that he is telling. This is perhaps reflected most notably with `The Significant City Of Lazarus Glass' which is a Sherlock Holmes style of take on a story; with exaggerated superhero-style detectives and a comically surreal supervillain in Lazarus Glass. It's not only a standout short for the style used, but also for the absolute entertainment of the short.
That's not to say that the whole book is a purely engrossing read from start to finish. Sadly far from it. What soon becomes apparent when reading the shorts is that Thompson has put a great emphasis on the styling; with a raw and provocative prose being utilised, whilst the actual substance of the tales (i.e. the stories themselves) are almost an afterthought.
As such, at times the stories can become bogged down in their overly wordy passages, with very little of interest or effect transpires. There's absolutely no sense of urgency, emphasis on pace, or desire to evoke much in the way of connecting-consistency between the stories. As such, the entire collection feels almost dreamlike in its telling - surreal and almost directionless. And to be honest, it's not a particularly positive aspect of the book.
This overall sense of meandering, with far too much over-padding and which is too geared towards the subtitles of each tale, is what ultimately lets the book down. At time it's hard to stop your mind from wandering- with the painfully verbose passages edging close towards the realms of boredom. Harsh? Perhaps so, but with so little reign on the pace and direction of each short, the stories ultimately suffer from these thick patches of written dirge.
The novel runs for a total of 278 pages.